Cats and Dogs Living Together

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Wow, this is surreal… EPI economist Max Sawicky points out (correctly) that I may have been too quick when I noted that the Bush adminstration broke Clinton's 2000 record for new federal regulations. It's certainly true if we're just doing a page count of new rules. But the page count by itself isn't necessarily that important. First, because some of those rules are replacing existing (perhaps more onerous) rules and don't represent any net increase. Second, because knowing the number of regulations doesn't tell you how bad they are: It would not be an improvement to replace the thousands of pages of the Federal Register with one simple sentence saying "all business decisions must be approved by the Supreme Council." And Max points to an OMB report [2.4m PDF] indicating that many new regulations don't impose terribly burdensome costs relative to their benefits.

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  1. Perhaps you should revisit your “Bush increased spending more than Clinton” factoid, too. This if from the House Republican Policy Committee’s website, run by Chris Cox, who is known for criticizing fellow Republicans penchant for spending:

    “When Presidents Reagan and Bush held non-defense discretionary spending constant in real terms over 12 years, under Bill Clinton . . . federal non-defense spending grew by 10%. When American ended the 40-year one-party rule of Democrats in Congress in 1994, the new majority succeeded termporarily in slowing the growth of spending. Indeed, in its first year, the new Republican majority not only slowed the growth of domestic discretionary spending, but actually cut it. Despite those efforts . . . non-defense discretionary spending exploded by 16% during the last three years of the Clinton administration.” The paper also fairly notes that this Congress has been overly profligate… but also notes that the Bush administration’s initial 10 year budget provided for annual non-defense discretionary growth rate of 3.8%, less than the trends under the second term of the Clinton administration.

    Underscores many points made in the comment thread on your article including (1) comparing global spending (entitlements plus defense plus non-defense discretionary) in 8 years of Clinton vs. 3 years of Bush is too broad-brushed, and white-washes the massive growth in spending after the Republican resistance to Clinton collapsed in the second Clinton term, and (2) Republican Congress lack of spending restraint, which predates Bush’s election, is most proximately attributable to Republicans being horse-whipped in the polls by Clinton during the Contract w/ American period, not by the election of Bush; and (3) the notion that Clinton was more fiscally responsible than Bush is just plain wrong.

    Policy Paper quoted may be found at policy.house.gov/html/news_item.cfm?id=20

  2. Regulation page counts aren’t a fair measurement anyway, because the time required to write regulations means every administration will preside over the promulgation of regulations for legislation passed during the previous administration. Most of the regulations issued during 2001 would have to have been pursuant to legislation passed while Bill Clinton was President.

    Of course it is also true that regulations have to be issued to implement legislation whether the President in power likes the legislation or not. You can’t really blame Bush for the amount of regulation that had to be issued to implement McCain-Feingold, for example.

  3. Heck no. Bush in 3 years beats Clinton in 8 no matter how you slice it: http://maxspeak.org/gm/archives/00001432.html.

  4. Would point out re: Fred’s comment:

    1. Clinton’s actual non-defense discretionary spending vs. Bush’s “10 year budget” for the same is not a meaningful comparison. (“You’ve lost 3 pounds over the last month, but I will lose 30 pounds over the next year! Ha! So who’s more physically fit now?”)

    2. Looking solely at non-defense discretionary spending is useful for some purposes, but it’s not the entire picture. Bush cut taxes a lot, which raises the interest on the debt, which is not a non-defense discretionary expense but an expense all the same. Bush went to war in Iraq, which is not a non-defense discretionary expense but an expense all the same. Those actions may well be justifiable on other reasons, but you can’t do things that cost a lot of money and congratulate yourself on cutting spending at the same time.

  5. Max, you are using averages to hide to differences in specific periods in the Clinton administration. It is one thing to compare Bush’s three years to the one or two years Congress actually forced Clinton to reign in spending. It is another to look at the last 3 years or so of the Clinton administration, when Clinton was back on top, which is my point. Your graph doesn’t address those stats.

    Moreover, the notion that Presidents are “spenders” is so much DNC spin. Since Congress does the ultimate appropriating, and President’s have no line-item veto, maybe it would be fairer to compare Clinton’s submitted budgets with Bush’s. For instance, I’d like to compare Bush’s FY 04 budget to the budget proposed by Clinton in the 104th Congress (FY 94 or 95, I think) (when Republicans took over): back then, on the eve of the balanced budget act, Clinton projected $200-300 billion deficits as far as the eye could see.

    The point is: once you get away from aveages, it is apparent that Clinton was not as restrained as Julian and you make out. It is also clear that the Republican’s success in controlling spending was short-lived, making it unlikely we will see a repeat if Dean gets elected. The point: if the past as any indicator, Dem president will not be as restrained as Republicans, if he has his way; and he will, because, if the last 3 years of the Clinton administration are any indication, Republicans are not likely to be a restraint on a Dem president.

    I understand why you are spinning these DNC-type stats: you are a Democrat. My question is, is Julian your dupe, or a willing accomplice.

  6. And, I’m not congratulating Bush on spending. Bush s*cks in many ways. Spending has definitely increased way too much for my taste on his watch. I’m holding my nose when (if) I vote for the guy, but–if Clinton administration spending is the real basis for argument in favor of Dean (I don’t really think Julian cares about this, as much as the war, abortion, gay-rights, and such… spending is just a factoid to gild the lilly for benefit of the little “l” libertarian herd), then statisics sliced in a different way undercut that argument.

  7. Two further points, and then I HAVE to get to work. Bush’s latest subbmitted deficit projection, from my minimal web research, is indeed worse than anything that Clinton every projected–to the tune of 400 plus billion. I don’t know what Bush was projecting when he came into office, before the war and Iraq reconstruction et al. happened. Probably much less. At same juncture Clinton was projecting something like $250-300 billion deficits. Last Clinton budget proposals dont’ count b/c they were exercises in political advertising.

    First 3 years of the Bush administration has netted something like 20% increase non-defense discretionary total over three years, according to Cato. I am reading the House Policy Committee stats. to mean last 3 years of Clinton was like 16%, so the last three years have been worse, but only marginally.

    Make of that what you will, but I think the notion that Bush years is orders of magnitude worse than last three Clinton years, or that Dems are not party of free markets and fiscal restraint, is disingenuous.

  8. last sentence above should say Dems are “notion that Dems are NOW party of free markets and fiscal restraint is disingenous”…

  9. No Julian is not my dupe. I am his dupe. At least, that’s what I’m trying to dupe him into thinking. And he’s duping me into thinking I’m duping him . . .

    Averages are the most neutral way to summarize in this context. There’s no getting away from them. I am totally mystified by your statement that in the last three years of the Clinton reign, he was “back on top.” In what sense? (No jokes, thanks.)

    You are right that crediting or blaming presidents for what happens during their term can be a stretch. In this case, though, both Bush and Clinton signed off on all the spending legislation that ultimately passed. Nothing passed over their veto, as far as I can remember. Don’t they bear some responsibility?

    As for budgets, in 2001 Bush projected surpluses, just like the Congressional Budget Office. These had been foreseen, however inaccurately, before the election. By contrast, Clinton came in projecting the same deficits envisioned under Bush I.

    If all this is DNC spin, then the Catonians must be the dupes of the DNC. They’ve written about this too. Who knew. As for myself, I haven’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1992.

    As for free markets, who needs ’em. Cheers.

  10. There is another reason why it is misleading to look at pages of regulations as indicative of an increase in the economic burden of taxation. I was working at the Treasury Department during the first Bush Administration when the president was being attacked for increasing regulation. His response was to freeze all regulations and prohibit new ones from being promulgated for (I think) 90 days. We quickly discovered that there was a strong demand for new regulations by businesses. They needed guidance and interpretations of the law before moving forward with various aspects of their business. As any tax lawyer how he could do his job without all the various IRS and Treasury regulations that tell him what the law means and how it will be enforced.

  11. Okay, so this might seem foolish, but Bruce’s point begs the question: Why pass more damn laws then? 🙂

  12. “Clinton on top”

    I only mean that by the time the dust had cleared, Clinton had basically won on matters of policy: not a lot of talk from the Republicans about eliminating the Department of Education from ’97 to ’00. Instead Republicans and Dems competed to see who could propose the most generous package of prescription drugs to seniors. Impeachment was a sign the Republicans knew they were beat.

    I’m not Clinton fan, but, through the success of his political strategy, the man basically reshaped American politics. Like Kaus says today, everyone in politics seems to be a neoliberal now. For the worse in my opinion. For the better in the opinion of some others.

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